GREEN BAY, Wis. – At age 29 and entering his ninth NFL season, Aaron Rodgers is on a rep count for the first time since he became the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback in 2008.
It has been especially noticeable during team periods this week, when at times Rodgers has taken only the first rep or two before giving way to the backups. That’s a significant change from past camps in which Rodgers often took the first three or four reps of each period, and the backups would get two or one snaps each.
It’s a noteworthy philosophical switch by coach Mike McCarthy, when you consider that Rodgers is seemingly in the prime of his career and has prepared more or less the same way in terms of practice time the previous five summers.
It’s also noteworthy that neither McCarthy nor his top offensive assistants, coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, will say exactly what prompted the change.
“We have a philosophy on that,” McAdoo said Wednesday. “But we’ll keep that under wraps.”
Clements would only say that they “wanted to save a little bit of wear and tear on him and give some reps to the other guys to be able to make a good evaluation.”
It’s unknown whether they believe fatigue set in for Rodgers last season, when he wasn’t able to replicate his MVP production from 2011, or if there’s another reason. Maybe they’re just protecting their investment. Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension this offseason.
Whatever the reason, the quarterback appears to be more than fine with it.
“I’ve appreciated it,” Rodgers said. “Last year there were times where we took 60 out of 70 snaps in practice, and that’s tough for anybody whether you’re in year one or year eight. Now in [year] nine, they’ve done a good job -- I think Ben, Mike and Tom -- of putting their heads together and taking off some of my load on my arm, so my arm’s been able to stay very fresh. My legs feel have felt really good.”
Rodgers’ playing time in the preseason opener also was less than it was in the same game a year ago. Rodgers played one series in last Friday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals and played three in last year’s preseason opener at San Diego, although the total play count was only two less this year (14-12). Rodgers looked sharp during his brief action against the Cardinals, competing 3-of-5 passes for 62 yards. His timing on a 50-yard completion to receiver James Jones was spot on.
“I feel like I’m where I should be,” Rodgers said.
It’s worth noting that while Rodgers has taken fewer snaps during 11-on-11 periods, his work during individual fundamental periods has not lessened. If anything, McAdoo said, it has increased.
The Packers have ended almost every practice during this camp with a no-huddle or two-minute period, and Rodgers has taken the bulk of those snaps. On Wednesday, he led a seven-play, no-huddle drive during which he completed 5-of-6 passes for 66 yards and a 22-yard touchdown to Jones.
“I think his timing and his pinpoint passes came a lot earlier in this camp than past camps,” McCarthy said. “I thought he established his rhythm with some of the newer players a little earlier than in the past. I think the rep count for the first time in his career has really helped him, so I think he’s been very consistent throwing the football.”